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Utah Starbucks workers in Cottonwood Heights join push to unionize

Employees at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights, seen here, are banding together to unionize, March 31, 2022.
April Fossen
Employees at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights, seen here, are banding together to unionize, March 31, 2022.

When Jacob Lawson saw a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, move to unionize in December, he was inspired. On Thursday, he and more than a dozen of his coworkers at a Starbucks in Cottonwood Heights announced their intentions to unionize.

“This has been a long time coming,” Lawson said.

The 23-year-old shift supervisor said he and his coworkers want higher pay — including tips on credit card purchases — and better benefits.

“We want to be actual partners,” he said. “Starbucks likes to refer to us as partners, but we definitely aren't actual equal partners, and unionizing will allow us to have more say in higher corporate matters.”

The Cottonwood Heights workers join a wave of other employees of the coffee chain across the country pushing to unionize.

But organizing in Utah isn’t without its challenges. Matt Basso, a history professor at the University of Utah, said there are two things they’ll have to overcome: the state’s right-to-work status, which makes unionizing more difficult, and long-held values of Western individualism.

“Utah's culture isn't the culture of the old Midwest or Northeast, where unionization was really strong,” Basso said. “But Gen Z and other younger workers don't see themselves necessarily as some sort of link to some kind of cowboy mentality. They see themselves much more akin to the young workers in Buffalo. They see themselves more like those workers than they do some kind of mythic, individualistic Utah worker who truly never really existed.”

That’s why if the Cottonwood Heights employees are successful, Basso said it could strengthen the larger national push to unionize service workers.

“To see it happen in Utah, a place that folks know stands for kind of a different culture, a different workplace and a different set of laws and policies, that would be pretty notable,” he said. “It's a signal about the labor movement across the country. But it's also a signal about changes here in Utah.”

In a statement to KUER, a spokesperson for the global chain said the corporation is “listening and learning” from its employees, but they believe they’ll work better together without a union.

“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we are better together as partners, without a union between us, and that conviction has not changed,” the statement read.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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